YOUNG STAR: What was your previous work experience like, before coming to run the business you run now?
Erika Wong: I used to be a management trainee. I found myself joining a big, fast-moving consumer goods company. And of course if you’re a trainee, you do whatever your boss tells you to do. And after being immersed for two years, after getting promoted, that’s the time I thought, I think I can do this in my terms. When you’re in the corporate world, everything is about results. Doesn’t really matter how you wanna do it, basta, as long as you deliver it. It ended up that my values as a person were challenged, and I was asked to do things that I didn’t really feel quite right with. So I ended up leaving.
Ruel Amparo: Even before graduating, I’d been working in different companies. I tried working for Shell, for Boston Consulting Group, and in IMI, under the Ayala Group. Pero these were all internships. Then after graduation, I went sa oil and gas company, Petron. Ever since college kasi, I really looked up to people in the corporate world. For me, it was the standard of success. Pero, during college — though I was studying hard, I was also very keen on different social activities. I’d been very much engaged in projects na community-related, like Payatas, and sa different small communities. When I graduated, parang it was one of the piece[s] na nawawala. Nafe-feel ko na parang may kulang. That could be one of the triggers. Why I felt maybe there’s something else I could do, aside from being in corporate.
Social club: Aloy, Erika, Ruel, and Janine got together to discuss the ups and downs of leaving a corporate job and starting a social enterprise.
Janine Chiong: I had a brief stint in the corporate sector. I just knew it wasn’t for me. Right after college, I took a break, I went on a fieldwork trip in Bohol, just to ease myself into the real world. And then right after I got back, I got hired already for a pharmaceutical company, as part of the marketing team. But I also felt I could do so much more. There wasn’t anything wrong with it per se. But at that time already, I was putting up Habi, my other enterprise, which started as my thesis. That was my first social enterprise. Growing it would’ve been stunted had I not resigned that company. So I only stayed in GlaxoSmithKlein for three weeks. [laughs] I resigned because I wasn’t really happy with my work at that time, and then I also felt that if no one was gonna focus on the business, then how else would it go?
Aloy Chua: My biggest regret was leaving college with zero savings. I had no financial literacy whatsoever that time, and so, it made an entrepreneurial career much more difficult. I got into social entrepreneurship through the GK Enchanted Farm. A group called Frontline invited us to join a one day exposure trip to the farm. Prior to that, I didn’t really have any business aspirations or desires. [But] as early as late grade school or early high school, I was already an environment person. Environment was my first ever advocacy. So I was the one who was starting to question about disposables and paper and all that jazz. Then, I was in fourth year high school when the Sumilao farmers incident happened. That was when my flame for social justice and poverty alleviation, equal rights and opportunities for all, came into being. The first step was to join Frontline, which at that time did training and development. And my way into social entrepreneurship began with me also conducting camps and tours at the GK farm. Doon lumaki network ko, that’s where I met other social entrepreneurs. And that was what led to my other opportunities after college.
What is it about the way businesses are usually run that make you think “Oh, this could be done better?
Aloy: Same with everyone. I also found myself struggling with how corporate values seem to be so disconnected and uncaring, about genuine social problems out there. So [in college] I kinda wrestled with myself about it. I was a legal management major. So I had labor law. And there I read all about unfair labor practices. Companies like PAL and SM. So it led me to further reinforce the negative image of traditional big business in my head. It’s true that many companies out there are still mostly oriented on money-making, on maximizing the value to their shareholders but fail to maximize and optimise the value for their stakeholders. Including, among others, their employees, the rank and file, and the environment.
Janine: I guess I already had a backup plan? And at that time, had I not had Habi, I would’ve stayed. I think the common misconception about millennials is that we’re too restless, we want to move from one job to another, and too a certain extent it’s true. But it’s because we’re passion-driven. We wanna do things because we love it. Siguro when it comes to corporate, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with struggling to stay in that grind, but in my case, I already had a business that I wanted to grow. So that’s why I left.
“I also found myself struggling with how corporate values seem to be so disconnected and uncaring, about genuine social problems out there.”
Erika: The trigger that made me shift from corporate, having a high-paying job, to earning almost nothing, was my take on the entire marketing scenario in the Philippines. A lot of companies really bombard us with so many different marketing claims. I don’t know if you notice, but in every commercial, TVC, there’s usually a qualifier, or a disclaimer. And at that time, when I was still in that world, not exposed to social entrepreneurship, I actually believed everything that these big multinational companies were saying. I lived in Gawad Kalinga for two years. And our team is composed of an international delegation. They’d keep on asking me, why do I end up eating all of these processed products? Kasi sila they grew up with fresh food, tayo… we love panic canton. [laughs] We love canned foods and hotdogs. At the end of it, when I got exposed to all of these people, I started thinking about what am I really putting inside my body? And I started reading the labels. And that was the time I said okay, I think there’s something really wrong in terms of the marketing industry right now. That’s how I started coming up with the concept of Karabella.
(READ: The work of social entrepreneurship: a roundtable: part 2)